red patio umbrella with table on street

How to Spend a Day in Downtown San Luis Obispo


Taking a day to explore Downtown San Luis Obispo, also known as “SLO” for short, is a good decision when you are looking for a way to relax. This city is a part of the California central coast and has been a popular destination for those both domestic and abroad, especially the downtown area. Whether you are a tourist just visiting as part of a California road trip or a recent transplant looking to make this your new home, you will find a friendly community, multiple activities for all ages, and that West Coast atmosphere we have all come to know and adore.

This is the beating heart of the city. For those with limited time here, we have a quick guide to what you should do in Downtown San Luis Obispo.

BA Start Arcade and Taproom

BA Start Arcade and Taproom
Photo Credit: Nicholas Rosen

For those of us who like to feel the nostalgia of the 1980s to early 2000s, this place is a great stop downtown. It’s a combination billiards hall, video arcade, and taproom. You can enjoy some of the classic games in fighting, first-person shooter, driving, and pinball machines we grew up with while having a few drinks in a very comfortable and relaxed atmosphere.

After 8 pm it becomes more crowded as it is 21+ but beforehand those with families can bring their kids in to play. They have karaoke during the afternoon on the weekend and looking to host multiple local events from live music to card games and comedians. A great way to spend an evening with your group of friends or even as part of a date night.

Shopping on Higuera Street

Higuera Street is the main street you will be walking through downtown San Luis Obispo. This is where you will probably want to do most of your shopping here. You have boutique stores with trendy new fashions next to major retailers for accessories and home decorations along with specialty shops for music records or books, and of course, modern food places in between so there are plenty of options.

If you are planning on buying gifts or souvenirs for others this is where you should go or just spend your time window shopping as you explore the neighborhood. There is also a larger indoor complex with more shopping as well as a movie theater as well if you want to take an intermission from running around.

Fremont Theater

Downtown SLO Fremont Theater
Photo Credit: Nicholas Rosen

The Fremont Theater is a historic movie theater from the 1940s that still brings in crowds. The art deco design brings a unique charm in addition to its extensive history in the area is why local groups wanted to save it from developers. It’s not just there for decoration though. It still hosts the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival every year. And though you won’t find major names here, the Fremont still hosts live bands, comedians, and club nights. These are the ones slowly building up a loyal following through the college town circuits in California or for some of the older crowd just looking to spend a night out in a different setting.

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa
Photo Credit: Nicholas Rosen

A beautiful historic Spanish mission that is still active, it’s been a cultural landmark for San Luis Obispo since the 17th century when it was constructed. It features the colonial architecture of the time with adobe walls and wooden beams. Inside one of the original wings is the museum, where there are exhibits of mission artifacts, murals, and content of the mission’s history in the area. They also provide guided tours if you prefer to listen to the history as you see it. Admission is free but donations to keep the church going are appreciated.

In front of the mission is the mission plaza, an open public space with outdoor seating, next to a fountain with bear statues for people to relax and enjoy their day. There is a short path you walk right along the creek that runs through downtown.

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa
Photo Credit: Nicholas Rosen

Behind the mission at the second entrance, there is a pleasant garden in the courtyard with church bells, olive trees, and other fauna that have been added to the grounds as a contribution to the church. You can see a statue of the mission founder and sit at one of the several benches for some quiet reflection.

Axe Throwing

Battle Axe SLO
Photo Credit: Nicholas Rosen

Axe throwing isn’t a new thing to the world but it’s finally been able to come to as a growing new venue in the downtown area with its indoor facility Battle Axe, right on Higuera Street. It’s one of the more active things you can do here which has made it so popular and the result is it can fill up pretty quickly. Maybe you can pop in for a quick 1-hour session but you might need to check in advance for availability.

Farmers Market

Occurring every Thursday night on Higuera Street is a friendly farmers market. You can stroll through multiple blocks of fresh fruits and vegetables, some live music, and a couple of street vendors for food. Not to mention all the stores along the route. There is some outdoor seating but plan on enjoying the treats while standing up or sit on the curb.

Bubblegum Alley

This is probably one of the weirdest attractions you can encounter while traveling. I mean, who wants to see hundreds of pieces of chewed gum stuck to a wall in the middle of a nice downtown area? But for some reason, it is well known when you research San Luis Obispo. It is pretty gross so don’t go out of your way to specifically see this. If you happen to be passing by just stop by for a few minutes to see what overrated deal is about.

San Luis Obispo Museum of Art

San Luis Obispo Museum of Art
Photo Credit: Nicholas Rosen

The San Luis Obispo Museum of Art fills itself with contemporary artists and is right next to the Mission Plaza along the creek. They continuously rotate their multiple galleries with new exhibitions so if you go periodically you will never see the same thing twice. On the first Friday of the month, they have a special event including music (usually a DJ), food, drinks, and new up-and-coming artists. It is certainly worth dropping in for an hour at zero cost. Be sure to see the arts and crafts area on the upper level with items for sale.

Where to Eat in Downtown San Luis Obispo

Shin's Sushi
Photo Credit: Nicholas Rosen

The eating in San Luis Obispo is just as wide and varied as any other popular area. You have the local flavors with casual dining next to upscale restaurants with award-winning menus. After a show at the Fremont Theater, stop next door at Shin’s Sushi for some all-you-can-eat. Or maybe eat at Luna Red who have cozy outdoor seating to go with their Spanish tapas-style food and where you can enjoy the sunny weather and watch the crowds in Mission Plaza as they pass you by.

We want you to spend some time and eat at the Creamery Marketplace, the only open-air public market in town. The artisanal food choices there are just delightful. We also have a number of breweries catering for those of you who might want to sample the local craft beers. And finish with some specialty brand candy and soda pop over at Rocket Fizz.

As there is a nearby university in San Luis Obispo, at night expect crowds of these college students to flood the streets to enjoy their free time and blow off a little steam. Especially on the weekends, you might see lines outside the local bars and pubs. In restaurants, you may expect a slower service but it’s not as bad as you might think.

What Do You Think About San Luis Obispo Now?

A day spent in downtown San Luis Obispo will be a day well spent. You’re going to find relaxation and adventure here. And this is only a small tidbit of what San Luis Obispo can offer you. There are many more things to do all over this area if you choose to extend your stay here. All you need to do is enjoy this gem of a city on the California coast.

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